I do not say any of this lightly. I spent a long time in Republican politics before coming to lead the National Association of Manufacturers. Every day, manufacturers work to advance the values that long made the United States exceptional: free enterprise, competitiveness, individual liberty and equal opportunity. Manufacturing is the backbone of the U.S. economy. And our success, our livelihoods, our businesses, and our families’ health and safety all depend on our basic form of government: the great and fragile experiment that is American democracy.
On Wednesday, our democracy was savagely attacked by armed Trump supporters. The facts are clear. They were inspired by outright lies that a free and fair election had been stolen and “rigged.” They believed the president’s baseless claims that he somehow won an election that he overwhelmingly, indisputably lost. And, incited by the president, they attacked Congress to stop its members from certifying the electoral votes.
All of this happened despite the president’s own appointed judges rejecting his campaign’s frivolous claims, his own lawyers walking away from certain fraud claims in court, and his administration’s attorney general saying the Justice Department had uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election.
The president has championed conspiracy theories, giving them far more attention than the deadly pandemic sweeping the nation, which he mishandled and ultimately ignored. Members of his party — a party that I once helped lead — cheered him on, even as he told his sycophants to come to the nation’s capital for a “wild” time to “stop the steal” on Jan. 6. Those followers did not stop at peaceful protest. They erupted into a violent mob after he encouraged them to descend on the Capitol. They attacked police officers and first responders as elected members of Congress and their staffs fled gunfire, donned gas masks and hid under chairs. At least four people are dead, according to Post reporting.
This was not law and order. This was deadly mob rule. Despite the chaos, the president continued to push lies about a stolen election. On Twitter Wednesday evening, he issued a halfhearted call for “peace” while telling the mob, “We love you.” After the mob ransacked the Capitol, the president tweeted: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots.”
This is not the leadership our country needs when our democracy hangs in the balance, when our Capitol is under attack — unlike any other time since the War of 1812 — and when we also face serious foreign threats, such as the Russian cyberattacks.
As House GOP Conference Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) said, “There’s no question” that the outgoing president “lit the flame.”
Trump has proved that he cannot be trusted to lead our country before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. It is not enough to merely hope that there will be a peaceful transition. The only way to prevent further violence in these critical days is to address the root cause: the person inciting the violence.
Trump should be held accountable. There are options besides the 25th Amendment, including resignation and impeachment. The Democrats, Republicans and independents raising this issue are making the point that Trump is incapable of delivering the leadership our country needs.
It also needs to be clear that any elected leader defending the president’s actions is violating his or her oath to the Constitution and rejecting democracy in favor of anarchy. Anyone who indulged conspiracy theories to raise campaign dollars is complicit.
The actions of this mob should not, however, be attributed to the tens of millions of decent, peaceful Americans who voted for Trump and are disappointed that he lost. In every election, many Americans are disappointed. That disappointment can be deeply felt, even painful. But disappointment does not justify harming our democracy or undermining faith in our elections. Above all, it does not justify deadly violence.
Our republic must be better than what we all witnessed Wednesday. That was not the vision of America that manufacturers believe in and work so hard to defend. We are trying to rebuild an economy as well as save and rebuild lives. But none of that will matter if leaders refuse to fend off this attack on the United States and our democracy — because the system of government that underpins our way of life will crumble. Too much is at stake.